Published: 26th April 2019
From streets of Chennai to Lord's, how these kids are planning to win the Cup for India
The youngsters are not just pumped about travelling to London but are sure they will bring the cup home
"I love cricket and I have been playing cricket ever since I can remember. Those were the days I used a thengai mattai (stalk of a coconut tree) as a bat and that was just when I was living in the streets of Chennai city," says J Nagalakshmi, a 17-year-old player who is currently under rigorous training for the upcoming Cricket World Cup not the same old ICC world cup but the Street Child World Cup. Street Child World Cup has been an annual or biennial event conducted by Street Child United which is an organisation that works towards empowering street kids and building their self-confidence in order to become ambassadors and inspire other street kids. This year the tournament will be held at Canary Wharf and Lords in London from April 30 to May 7, 2019. And guess what! Over 10 countries have registered and are prepped to play the world cup and it doesn't get more exciting than this for both the organisers and the participants.
Girl gang: The team that's heading to London consists of four girls and four boys
Street Child United partnered with Karunalaya Social Service Society, an organisation has been working with street children in India for over 24 years now. The two organisations joined hands in 2013 and Karunalaya has trained kids to participate in six editions of the world cup tournaments that Street Child United had conducted since then. This year Karunalaya has trained eight kids (six A-team members and two reserve) from India — four from Chennai and four from Mumbai — to play the six-a-side tournament. The team has both girls and boys and they are trained together as well. "We have always worked towards empowering street kids through sports and art collaborations. And sports is an important tool that really helps bring these children out of their shells despite their tough childhood. This year we held a try-out tournament where 150 children had participated and six qualified for the world cup in London. These kids are very dedicated and have showed up at every practice on time and have also proven themselves throughout the rigorous training they had to undergo," says N Paul Sundar Singh, Founder and Secretary, Karunalaya .
They made it: Out of 150 children that tried out for selections only eight were selected
Everyone is talking about Ambati Rayudu and Rishab Pant and India's World Cup squad but let me bring to your attention these kids who have made it to the world cup squad — not ICC but the Street Child World Cup squad. Get ready to applaud! As I introduce to you squad 2k19. J Nagalakshmi (17), Monisha (14) and Paul Raj (17) are on the final team and are super excited about it but each of them have been through their share of a rough patch. "I am originally from Madurai and I have three siblings. We lost our mother at a very young age and were forced to stay with our paternal grandmother who was always very spiteful of our very existence. We were sent to a home in Madurai where they made us make broomsticks and mats. When we told the people there that we wanted to study they sent us off to Tiruchy. But things did not change. I was very uncomfortable and I wanted to leave. They sent us to another home in Kellys in Chennai," says Nagalakshmi. Adding to this Monisha narrates, "I have a family of four. I lost my dad a couple of years ago and after that my mother has been the pillar of support to me and my brother. We stayed in one corner of Walltax Road close to Chennai Central. We never had a roof over us and during the rainy season we would run around just to find shelter." Paul cuts in, "My parents have a food stall on Waltax Road. We were never well off. My father could never provide for my education," he says.
Monisha is no less than Ally from 'Star is born'. Except, the cricket angle of course! It was all about cricket and football when Karunalaya came in as an opportunity for Monisha. The organisation helped her excel in her favorite sport and she grabbed the opportunity, "Karunalaya offered to adopt me into their institution and gave me the opportunities I could never even dream off. They encouraged the cricketer in me to come out and play against all stereotypes this country and the world has set. I find my identity in cricket and I am super-excited that someone like me who never was recognised for my talent is now being sent to London to represent my country in the World Cup this year."
The kids are the new MSDs ad Mithali Rajs on the block. "Karunalaya was the best thing that ever happened to me. When they found out that I loved playing cricket they gave me the training I needed. When I was told about the Street Kids Cricket World Cup I was overwhelmed," says Nagalakshmi. Paul was already a sportsman. Karunalaya just brought out the best in him, he recalls, "Karunalaya saw me play cricket when I was living in the streets and they asked me if I would be interested In playing for this tournament. I am among the four people who got selected from Chennai and that in itself is an achievement for me."
India's eight: The team will consist of six players and two substitutes
As I contemplate over my conversation with the children about how they feel about going to the land of Big Ben all I could remember was this statement 'I never thought that someone like me would ever get to fly to London and play cricket there'. But that's not it. Although that statement of how they felt stood out they also spoke about how bitter-sweet and overwhelming this trip is going to be. "It's a huge breakthrough in my life because we constantly live in a society that thinks women are good for nothing. But sports is not biased toward a particular gender. That is why I am going to London and I am coming back with that trophy," says a confident Nagalakshmi. Monisha adds in a cheerful tone, "My heart was always in sports and now I am going to fly to another country to play my favourite sport. Nothing gets better than this."
Paul on the other hand focuses on how glad he was that this event is an equal opportunity for the girls to excel and prove themselves, "I am giving my practice sessions all it takes to be the best at what I do and I want to come back a champion. I am also happy that I am being accompanied by sportswomen. These two girls are very strong and athletic. It is nice to see them being an inspiration to others like us."